High court stops London council from blocking access to social housing for the homeless

Monday 22 June 2015

In the High Court today, our client Ms A won her challenge against Westminster City Council on a decision which suspended her right to bid for Council accommodation for a period of twelve months.

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A London family (Ms A's family) lost their privately rented home in Westminster because the benefit cap meant they could no longer afford their rent.

Westminster Council agreed it had to accommodate them.

But first it placed them in Enfield and then it applied a new rule blocking them from bidding for social housing in Westminster for 12 months. This happened despite the law requiring that homeless people are to be given a “reasonable preference” in the allocation of social housing in the area to which they apply. Westminster’s thinking was that it would use the 12 months to find homes for homeless applicants in the private rented sector - in order to bring its own duties to an end.

Today, the High Court decided that Westminster’s new rule unlawfully blocked homeless people by denying them the preference the law requires them to have. The judge declared the new provisions (brought into Westminster’s Housing Allocation Scheme last year) to be unlawful.

The family are now free to bid alongside others seeking Council housing in the area - and so are all the other hundreds of homeless people who have successfully applied to the Council. They can all bid from the date their application is accepted rather than being blocked for 12 months.

Jan Luba QC of Garden Court Chambers said:

“This case has nothing to do with queue jumping. Quite the reverse. It is all about being able to join the queue of those in housing need, instead of being temporarily excluded from it. More importantly, it shows how valuable a tool judicial review can be in ensuring that the rule of law prevails and that the courts will expect public bodies to comply with legal requirements however pressing the demands on their limited resources”

Jayesh Kunwardia, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen said:

This landmark ruling makes it abundantly clear that homeless people have the right to bid for social housing from the time they secure a full housing duty from a local authority rather than being suspended for one year.   Westminster’s subtle way of registering the homeless, saying they will have points but denying them the right to bid for 12 months is now deemed unlawful”.

The family were represented by Jan Luba QC and Tim Baldwin, instructed by Jayesh Kunwardia at Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors. Jan Luba QC and Tim Baldwin are both members of the Garden Court Housing Team.

Read the full judgment.

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